Global Study
YMCA Global Study Blog header

Blog

One Girl Interview

by on

One Girl is a Melbourne based non-profit organisation that strives to change and improve the lives of girls in Sierra Leone and Uganda. Originally founded by Chantelle Baxter and David Dixon in 2009, the incredible movement has taken off and grown into a community of inspired individuals who have donated, volunteered and become ambassadors for the cause. Today, One Girl has helped change the lives of 29,462 women and girls and will continue to do so with a mission to educate 1 million girls!
YMCA Global Study got the chance to sit down with Erica, the International Program Director for One Girl and chat about the movement, her experience and her journey as a humanitarian.

Delisa: For those who aren’t familiar with One Girl, could you please tell us a bit about the organization and how it came to be?

Erica: One Girl is a nonprofit established in 2011 that works in Sierra Leone and Uganda. Our mission is to support women and girls with educational opportunities to create lasting change in their communities. We do this by collaborating with local community members to run programs in four main areas, all of which focus on dissolving the barriers that prevent girls from reaching their full potential. These are financial literacy and entrepreneurship (Business Brains); menstrual hygiene management (LaunchPad); WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) education and infrastructure (School Awesomisation) and Scholarships.

The organisation started with one girl, who was determined to not accept the hand she’d been dealt – she was going to go to school, no matter what. Our founders were travelling through sub-saharan Africa and discovered that this one girl was the voice of millions of others. Overwhelmed with the injustice they saw and the difficulties girls face each day, they committed to change this. With that commitment, One Girl was born.

Delisa: One Girl has educated and empowered so many girls, what would you say have been your biggest achievements so far? And how did you accomplish these?

Erica: Our biggest achievements are so hard to summarise!  Every year and multiple times a year we celebrate something (we’re a pretty positive bunch!). At One Girl we firmly believe in quality over quantity, this means we don’t value counting the number of girls but rather the significance of the impact we have made for each individual girl. For me, a few big moments of pride in 2017 would be: successfully running a pilot program with Bulogo Women’s Group, a local women’s organisation, in Uganda (the first partnership in Uganda)” and also launching our WASH program with another new partner SLSAV in Sierra Leone. These led to thousands of young girls educated on themes like: menstrual hygiene, water, sanitation and hygiene, sexual health and business.

Delisa: As a non-profit organization, what have been your biggest struggles and how did you overcome these?

Erica: Well, theres definitely a few, being a fairly new non-profit. In a world with challenges greater than we’ve ever faced only increasing, there is a lot of need for our kind of work, but not necessarily the resources flowing in to make it happen. How do we overcome this? A lot of hard work and determination and the support of amazing passionate people who believe in what we do!

Delisa: We’d love to learn more about your role within the company. Would you be able to give us a brief summary on your academic/ professional journey to get to this point?

Erica: I am the International Programs Director at One Girl. This means I work directly with our staff and partners in Africa to ensure that our programs are making the best impact they can. I am responsible for collaborating with locals in the design of programs, monitoring and evaluating their success.

After completing my BA at Melbourne in History and Diploma of Languages in Spanish, I moved to Mexico to work for a microfinance organisation, running an education program for indigenous women and children. After this, I returned to Melbourne, seeking a new opportunity and wanting to study further. I started my Master in International and Community Development and began running a new social enterprise with a Melbourne-based nonprofit working to create pathways into employment for marginalised women. During this time I learnt a lot but I was keen to work overseas again and take up an internship, this led me to the UNDP in New York. Then after working with the Sustainable Development Goals Fund, I was yearning to go to Latin America again and applied for a job in Guatemala. What started as a 3 month trip overseas, turned into a minor role in a large nonprofit working with Maya indigenous communities; then turned into a promotion to Director of Development and Operations, and almost 3 years abroad in a small town. Finally, I moved home in 2017, and began my role with One Girl and I’m still here now!

Delisa: Can you identify an academic or professional opportunity in your career that helped you get to your current role?  Is there something in particular that drew you to this field?

Erica: I believe my commitment to working abroad and volunteering in Australia for many years in a variety or different positions (sometimes very boring ones with low pay!) has been integral to getting my role now. Obviously, my Masters degree was a must too.

I grew up with a strong sense of social justice and human rights. My mum instilled this in me from a young age, taking me with her to protests, workshops and learning about other cultures and peoples. This led me to volunteer for many years in Australia and one day I realised I could make this passion a career with international development!

Delisa: Have you ever studied abroad or has work ever taken you overseas?

Erica: Yes, my first experience doing so was in Mexico City, on a 6-month exchange during my Arts degree. As aforementioned, I also returned to Oaxaca, Mexico to work later and have worked in Guatemala and New York. Now, with One Girl I have the privilege of traveling to Sierra Leone and Uganda each year.

Delisa: If yes, would you say that experience had an impact on you as a person or your work ethic?

Erica: Most definitely. I cannot emphasise more how studying and working abroad will positively impact you as a person. It will change you in a multitude of ways, such as strengthening your ability to adapt to new situations and take on difficult challenges. My exchange in Mexico sparked in me a lifetime love of Latin America, which led to my interest in Maya indigenous cultures and work in this area.

Delisa: Looking at the YMCA Global Study website, is there a program that particularly interests you?

Erica: I think there are many that I would enjoy! But mostly, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development looks appealing. I really believe that the involvement of the private sector is the key to any long-term real change occurring in future and we need to focus more on an integrated approach to development involving the public and private sectors.

Delisa: What’s one thing you wish you had done when you were a student?

Erica: I wish I studied more languages. I studied Spanish in university but I wish that I had studied another widely spoken language such as Arabic or Indonesian.

Delisa:  And finally, do you have any advice or words of wisdom for students who wish to pursue the same or a similar field?

Erica: A few general tips are:

– Learn a language and make it a useful one! If you are going to be working with people internationally, this is a vital part of both being culturally sensitive and qualified for an international posting.
– Be specific – development is very broad and the area I am in (programs) is extremely competitive. Choose a discipline such as   food security, WASH or education and become an expert so you can add value.
– Be open and patient- remember that you won’t get your dream job at first and may have to do some data entry for a while or       volunteer somewhere, but this all increases your skill-set and employability

Erica - International Program Director at One Girl

Erica - International Program Director at One Girl

Thank you Erica for taking the time to chat with us!

If you would like to learn more about One Girl, donate and support their movement, click here.  Follow them on Facebook so you can be a part of the One Girl community and of course, share this with your friends and family!

If you have an interest in the same or similar field, check out these study abroad programs offered by YMCA Global Study:

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

ENTREPRENEURSHIP BOOT CAMP

And finally, Happy International Womens day! Let’s take some time today to appreciate the strong women in our lives who have motivated us and inspire us to make the world a better place for others.

internationalwomensday_studyabroad_globalstudyymca

© YMCA 2017. All Rights Reserved.